By the numbers: What worries PR leaders most about the year ahead

Unfortunately, there’s a lot. 

What worries PR leaders most about the year ahead

America is at a political and cultural crossroads.

While this statement has technically been true since at least 2016, many of the threads that have divided the nation seem set to come to a head in 2024.  

The U.S. presidential election will be a major flashpoint at which voters will need to consider where they stand on issues ranging from wars in the Middle East and Ukraine to an uncertain relationship with China, the rising volatility of a changing climate and a variety of culture wars centered around identity. 



Gravity Research surveyed top communications executives from Fortune 1,000 companies to better understand which of these issues most concern them in the year ahead. All together, the data paints a picture of a fractured nation — and a worried corporate sector. 

The DE&I concern

The biggest foreseeable event of the next year is certain to be the U.S. presidential election, the first since insurrectionists stormed the capital to protest the certification of current President Joe Biden.  

But the campaign process itself is likely to bring some level of risk to companies and their initiatives. 

A graph showing what issues related to the election worry PR leaders most. Graph courtesy Gravity Research.

The biggest election-related concern by far relates to its potential impact on affirmative action, DE&I and equity initiatives, with a full 88% at least moderately concerned about this impact. Of course, this plays out against the backdrop of the Supreme Court case that all but ended race-conscious admissions at universities and saber rattling from GOP attorneys general toward companies engaged in the practice. 

But this should not be interpreted as companies panicking or abandoning DE&I efforts. In a subsequent question, Gravity asked what specific actions companies had taken in the wake of the decision. Majorities of both B2B and B2C companies responded that at the moment, they’re in a wait-and-see holding pattern, likely until trial cases like that against the Fearless Fund, which gives grants to Black female entrepreneurs, are decided.  

A graph showing how PR leaders plan to respond to the Supreme Court decision around affirmative action. Graph courtesy Gravity Research.

Some companies are taking steps, such as building hiring pipelines with HBCUs in order to improve diverse hiring without running afoul of courts and legislators. Others are “de-risking,” as Gravity President Luke Hartig puts it, or revising existing programs and materials to achieve the same end goals with different language.  

Finally, in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the definition of DE&I is expanding and refocusing on other areas, including religious inclusion.  


Foreign issues resonate at home 

World events have taken center stage in the United States. According to Hartig, Israel-Hamas remains a white-hot issue with Ukraine simmering amid concerns about whether the United States will continue funding the nation in its war against Russia. But in the background are concerns over China, especially around human rights issues and potential economic decoupling from the nation. However, Hartig stressed that the China concerns are in the background — but still present. 

“(Companies) figured out a mode or a process for China issues,” Hartig said. “And they haven’t necessarily figured that out yet on these other geopolitical issues.” 

One other wild card lies ahead for 2024: the Summer Olympics, which will be held in Paris. We can expect some level of athlete protests on any number of issues — something that may complicate the plans of the corporations that sponsor both the games and specific athletes.  

Climate change: Caught between a rock and a hard place 

One of the most challenging issues for companies to navigate is climate change. On the one hand, progressive politicians and activists are pushing for accountability on climate pledges. On the other, conservative politicians and activists are fighting against the very concept of ESG. 

A graph showing PR leader concerns over climate change. Graph courtesy Gravity Research.

The data shows an interesting split between concerns for B2B and B2C companies. B2B companies are especially worried about outside critiques by activists over a lack of progress toward goals, while B2C companies, which are more likely to be household names, are worried about being hit by the GOP or shareholders.  

Undoubtedly, 2024 will hold challenges and curveballs for communicators — and for the nation as a whole. Rest up; we’re in for quite a year. 

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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